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Songs That Got Us Through WW2: 15 Famous and Popular World War 2 Songs From the 30s & 40s

Yesterday we stumble across a beautiful, heart-warming story about a sweet elderly man who sang a love song to his dying wife. The love song is  “You’ll Never Know” by ” by Rosemary Clooney and Harry James, which his wife would sing to him when he went  away to fight in World War II.

So, we got really touched by this pure, beautiful love story, and we got to think how many love songs were sung in the time of war,  by young women who were forced to say goodbye to their loved ones, by young soldiers while writing love letters.  Well, Probably a lot!

SO, in order to avoid being over sentimental, we decided to research not only love songs but all  songs that were popular during WWII. So, below are some of the songs that were sung by lovers,  heard in the pubs, clubs and barracks as the world was at war for the second time in the century.


15.  Vera Lynn- (There’ll Be Bluebirds Over) The White Cliffs Of Dover

In 1942, Vera Lynn recorded “(There’ll Be Bluebirds Over) The White Cliffs of Dover.” The song was written by Walter Kent and Nat Burton before the United States entered the war. Germany had been bombing Great Britain in 1940 — the Battle of Britain — and the song looked forward to a time when peace would reign again in the skies over the Cliffs of Dover.

14. Marlene Dietrich-Lili Marleen

Originally, the German lyrics were written by Hans Leip, with music by Norbert Schultze. Tommie Connor later wrote English lyrics. The song was popular on both sides of the war and many cover versions were recorded, including the earliest by popular English songstress Anne Shelton, another by Vera Lynn and one by Perry Como in June 1944.The tune for “Lili Marlene” was used for a unique version called “The D-Day Dodgers,” sung by the Canadian army remaining in Italy once the Normandy invasion had begun in 1944.

13.Dick Haymes – You’ll Never Know 

The mood of the song is sentimental and nostalgic because it is about two lovers separated by war.

12.Jimmy Dorsey & Orchestra

“Vocalist O’Connell sings sweetly without embellishment while dreaming of her lover’s safe return from war. The audience can easily picture a girl-next-door type gazing out of a window adorned with a star signifying her lover’s involvement in the war, waiting patiently and keeping the fires of the home front burning. The singer is quite obviously committed to her ‘baby’, epitomizing the ideal sweetheart of the WWII era.

11. Glenn Miller, “In the Mood” (1941)

Arranged by Joe Garland and Andy Razaf just before the war, this song was based on a melody called “Tar Paper Stomp.” “In the Mood” remained a big hit for Miller for the duration of the war.

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10.George Formby, “I Did What I Could With my Gas Mask”

9.Vaughn Monroe, “When the Lights go on Again (All over the World)” (1942)

Written by Bennie Benjamin, Eddie Seiler and Sol Marcus. Here’s another great version by Vera Lynn.

8. The Andrews Sisters, “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree” (1942)

Originally titled “Anywhere the Bluebird Goes,” Sam H. Stept updated the melody of a 19th century English folk song, and lyrics added by Lew Brown and Charles Tobias. In February 1942, the Glenn Miller Orchestra recorded the song, and by May the Andrews Sisters performed the song in the film Private Buckaroo.

7.Dooley Wilson, “As Time Goes By” (1942)

“Play it, Sam,” says Ingrid Bergman, but Dooley Wilson was a singer and drummer, not a pianist. The piano was played off-camera by Elliot Carpenter. Rumour has it “As Time Goes By” was nearly cut from the movie, which was released only a few weeks after the Allied invasion of North Africa and the capture of Casablanca.

Although composed in 1931 by Herman Hupfeld, “As Time Goes By” was only a hit after appearing in 1942’s Casablanca, starring Humphrey Bogart, Bergman, and Paul Henreid as the idealistic patriot Victor Laszlo. And “Sam” sings it.

6.Spike Jones, “Der Fuehrer’s Face” (1942)

This live, silly, fabulous bit of comic propaganda by Spike Jones and the City Slickers was “resented” by Movietone News in 1942

And, these are really great, too: Der Furher’s Face (1942), by Disney with Donald Duck, and another Der Furher’s Face cartoon — perhaps a Looney Tunes version.

5.Glenn Miller, “Moonlight Serenade” (1939)

Glenn Miller was a big band leader, arranger, composer and trombone player during the swing era. In December 1942, at the peak of his civilian career, Miller decided to join the war effort, eventually forming his 50-piece Army Air Force Band, performing on radio and for the troops. Miller took the band to England in the summer of 1944, where he gave over 800 performances.

On Dec. 15, 1944, while he was traveling to entertain in France, Miller disappeared in bad weather over the English Channel. The reason remains a mystery. This video starts with the BBC announcement where Miller was reported missing.

4.Arthur Askey, “Kiss me Goodnight, Sergeant Major” (1939)

Arthur Askey was a well-known English comedian and actor, who appeared on radio, film and very early television (BBC). “Sergeant Major,” a British soldier’s song mocking their officers,  was written by Art Noel and Don Pelosi in 1939 and recorded by Askey, George Formby Jr. and later even Vera Lynn. In 1940, Askey wanted to record “It’s Really Nice to See you Mr. Hess” (after Hitler’s deputy fled to Scotland), but the song was banned by the War Office.

3. The Andrews Sisters, “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B” (1941)

The Andrews Sisters really were sisters: LaVerne (born in 1911), Maxene (born in 1916)  and Patricia “Patty” Andrews (born in 1918). Specializing in swing and boogie-woogie, their ultra close sibling harmony was featured in more than 600 songs and sold 75–100 million records. They also appeared in many films. This is an excerpt from the Abbott and Costello film, Buck Privates. (1941).

2. George Formby, “Imagine me on the Maginot Line”

George Formby was a northern British comedian, who sang and played ukulele and banjolele. Formby’s flat feet kept him from military service, so he joined the Blackpool Home Guard as a dispatch rider and began an extensive series of troop concerts. First to visit the British Expeditionary Force in Normandy in 1940, he eventually toured the front lines of North Africa, Malta, Sicily, Gibraltar and Italy, and was in Normandy less than a week after D-Day.A real “cheeky chappie,” Formby sang light, comic songs that were a little bawdy, and full of double entendre, just what the troops abroad and civilians at home needed.

1.Vera Lynn, “We’ll Meet Again” (1939/1942)

Written in 1939 by Ross Parker and Hugh Charles, the lyrics to “We’ll Meet Again” resonated with soldiers, their families and sweethearts as soldiers went off to war, some never to return. As with many of the popular songs of the time, there are a number of cover versions, but the 1942 recording by Lynn and the 1943 movie of the same name made “We’ll Meet Again” one of the most emblematic songs of the war.

Ian Smith

Ian Smith is one of the authors writing for The Vintage News